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Victim Toxicology Analysis Held Reliable

In Bunch v. State of Indiana, 2012 WL 952096 (Ind. App. March 21, 2012), the court analyzed the reliability of Victim Toxicology Analysis, which is an analysis of the effects of the products of combustion on victims. Based upon the expert's review of eyewitness testimony about the fire, photographs of the damage to the structure, and the victim's toxicology reports, the expert concluded that the fire originated as an under-ventilated, confined fire in the space above the ceiling in the bedroom, and not from an accelerant. The expert clearly explained the scientific principles supporting her methodology.

The victim's carbon monoxide saturation was 80%. However, there was no thermal damage to her respiratory system. The expert modeled carbon monoxide exposure for the victim's size and weight concluding that a typical under-ventilated fire would yield 5,000 to 10,000 parts per million of carbon monoxide. Based upon this modeling, she concluded that an under-ventilated confined fire could cause an 80% carboxy-hemoglobin level in the victim within 5 to 10 minutes once the fire is no longer contained. 

The expert then modeled a typical well-ventilated fire, such as one burning in an open room. The modeling demonstrated that a well-ventilated fire would yield approximately 1,000 parts per million of carbon monoxide. Based upon the modeling, the carboxy-hemoglobin level would not reach 80% in the victim for well over 60 minutes.   

The expert testified that the autopsy and toxicology results were consistent with this conclusion.  The victim was exposed to carbon monoxide, impairing the victim's senses and judgment. Consistent with the conditions caused by an under-ventilated fire, there was soot in the victim's respiratory system, indicating that she had inhaled a great deal of smoke. Her blood gases were normal, indicating that she was not in the room where the fire originated. 

The court noted that fire victim toxicology analysis fire appeared in NFPA 921 in the 2001 edition. The court found the victim toxicology analysis to be a reliable methodology.

© Copyright 2020 Armstrong Teasdale LLP. All rights reserved National Law Review, Volume II, Number 275

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